Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

lists, writing, and cleaning the mind’s house


via wikicommons

via wikicommons

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve visualised my mind as an old house. And lately it seems more like a house that needs a LOT of TLC — re: it’s  kind of a mess.

So when the facilitator at the writing retreat I’m at today asked us to ‘make a list’ to begin our morning, I couldn’t imagine where to start. I finally just wrote down a list of what’s on my mind, ranging from the rats (the RATS!) to my beloved’s health to new ink pens to moving. It was all over the place.

Here’s the thing about writing (at least for me, and most of the folks I know): it’s therapy of the best kind. Like cooking (another great therapy), you have a product at the end of the process. But the process in itself is great — you get to fiddle w/ words, maybe draw or doodle something to go with, and in the end, if you’re lucky (and persevere), you have something to show for it.

How cool is that?

the author's

the author’s

As I wrote down what was on my mind, I began to see how much I worry. I worry about everything, folks: my sons & daughter-in-law, my beloved, the bees, stuff that hasn’t even happened yet! Sister Ellie — an Episcopal nun who leads a wonderful local meditation class — would call it ‘building crap castles.’ And she is so right. My mind’s house is full of… RATS! And the dust bunnies of worries, half-formed fears, irritations.

But when I write them down? Somehow both their fear factor and my feeling of helplessness are lessened. I can see that aging IS inexorable. And no, I can’t fix these things. And yet… and yet… When I write them down, they are reduced to scale. They don’t dominate me. I can breathe again, and walk quietly around the uncluttered rooms of my thoughts.

This won’t work for everyone, I know. But I’m nudging you — ever so gently — to try it. It’s just a list, folks. Who knows where that writing may lead you? Or just how it may heal you? Isn’t that worth the gamble of a couple of minutes?

oh RATS, or, rescue and repatriation and compassion

ratThis is Rattus norvegicus, the common brown rat. It’s the same rat many lab rats are bred from, and it’s SMART. Also, not so nice to have as a wild resident. As in: living in your laundry room. Even if the laundry room is only an occasional outing (inning?) from the garage, where it’s set up house.

My niece used to have a pet rat. But it was white, and looked nothing like the rats that lived (we hope it’s past tense!) in the garage. Her rat’s name was Murphy; he lived well, let me tell you. The rats in the garage are known only by that label: we did NOT name them.

Our rats are almost certainly the result of a rat the cat brought in, and we didn’t get away from her in time. Sigh…. Luckily? It went to the garage, and didn’t move in to the pantry. Still, there were RATS. PLURAL. But I didn’t know for a while — it took the cat food disappearing out of the laundry room (where we feed her) for me to figure out there must be something else going on. Sophie is NOT a large cat.

And then… I saw its tail. Did I mention I was completely creeped out by the flick of that naked ratty tail slipping beneath the washer??

But you know what? I’m a Buddhist. One who no longer eats pigs, or veal, and feels guilty about the meat she does consume. One who carefully picks up spiders and carries them outside. Rescues wasps on brooms to put them outside. In other words, I did NOT want to kill a rat. Much less the three (so far!) who turned up…rat trap

Because rats aren’t ‘things’ to me, I have to tell you. They’re living beings, w/ babies, and mates, and households. And I’m quite certain several of you are shaking your heads in bemusement. The plague! You’re thinking. I know. But baby rats. You can’t KILL mommy & daddy (or baby) rats. So you have to buy a live trap.

As the most fortunate of animal lovers, I give thanks that my beloved indulges me. He baited the live trap (three times!) with cat food. Obviously, our rats think natural cat chow is a delicacy. And each time we caught a rat, we made the trip to the nearby park and released it.

I know this will seem crazy to many people, but I am the product of a childhood in which the connected, web-bedness of all life was made clear to me over & over. As I watched the monks sweep the paths before them carefully, gently, trying not to step on the many ground insects, I learned that even bugs deserve their tiny lives. I still believe this, although I’m not nearly as good as the monks were.

But I can rescue three rats, and take them to wild. Even if the hawk catches these town rats, it’s part of the natural cycle, and better than poison or pain traps. And it makes me feel at least a very little bit more compassionate. Which is worth far more than the $24.99 the Havahart trap cost.

unintentionally clueless…

via deviantart

via deviantart

I hurt someone’s feelings today. Hurt them completely unintentionally, but still deeply. Reminded a man of ways in which the world may see him, even though I don’t believe I do.

And even though I apologised — heartfelt, humbly, and more than once (more than twice) — he believes I don’t like him. Because I also have a very strange sense of humour, and teased him once. Note to self: other folks aren’t always good w/ teasing. And to be fair? I tease almost everyone.

Please understand: I did not tease him about what he’s sensitive about. I’m not totally clueless, just occasionally a dolt. But I did tease him, which to me shows that I don’t think of him as…well, someone to be treated w/ especial care. Normal kindness & human compassion? Sure. At least I hope I treat folks I encounter with both of those.

Still, now he believes I don’t like him. He told me so, and I have to trust him that he feels this way. It’s not true — I like him fine. But a beginner’s heart is often stubbornly stupid, or at least mine is. And I have no idea how to make this right, or if I even can. Obviously he’s far pricklier than I knew, and understandably so. His life is not easy. I still wish I could figure out how to make this better.

Sigh. So, f anyone has any idea how to make amends to someone you unintentionally hurt deeply? Let me know. I could use some coaching here…

starlings and house wrens and feeding the hungry

via google

via google

We have several bird feeding stations on our deck: suet feeders, a seed cylinder, sunflower seed, and small seed (mostly millet) for our sparrows. In the summer, we trade out one of the 2 suet feeders for a hummingbird feeder, and add yet another. There are also 2 different-sized watering saucers — one deeper for the robins & mockers — and another shallow. Plus a tiny saucer filled w/ pebbles for the bees, butterflies, & moths.

We like feeding birds. :)

Our reward is a symphony of bird songs: the rat-a-tat-tat of downy & hairy & red-bellied woodpeckers; the cacophony of sparrows, the chirp of cardinals, the shriek of hawks who prey on the smaller birds (& squirrels), as well as finches, blue jays, robins, and many many more. One of our favourites is the house wren, and we’re lucky to have at least 3 (maybe more).

Unfortunately, we also have starlings. LOTS of starlings. Sigh. BIG sigh. The robber barons of birds. I try to think of their beautiful wheelings & soarings, the murmurations that are endlessly fluid & lovely in the wide Oklahoma sky. But mostly? I just see them monopolising the feeders, chasing off even our stalwart mockingbirds.

via wikicommons

via wikicommons

I hate it.

Every time I see the starlings, I remember how much the seed cylinders cost, and how a chattering of starlings can clean out the whole feeding system in a matter of hours. Sheesh. So I make harsh noises, bang on the window, and go outside and yell at them. Today I may even throw a snowball! Darn starlings. And still they return. Until finally I give up, and try to remember that even a greedy starling needs to eat in this cold cold winter. They have families, too.

It’s the way, I’d like to think, that aggressive conservatives feel about feeding the poor: they don’t want the human equivalents of starlings to ‘eat’ what’s earmarked for the house wrens & mockingbirds of humanity. Except… I don’t really believe this, I’m afraid. Yes, there are those who take advantage (like the rapacious starlings). But while the anti-welfare and anti-WIC forces want to abolish feeding stations for ALL the poor and/or hungry, I’m still feeding the blasted starlings. I continue to put out food, even though I know it won’t last as long.

via commons.wikimedia

via commons.wikimedia

Yes, the starlings will gather and gorge. But otherwise? How will our house wrens, our tiny chickadees and finches, the overwintering yellow-rumped warbler, and the flicker make it through this heavy snow? What would happen to the mockingbird, the early robin who has taught himself to feed at the swinging seed cylinder? Or the utterly adorable downy & hairy woodpeckers who cling to the wire suet feeders?

I will suffer starlings. If not gladly, at least w/grace (well, most of the time). And I wish I could convince those who are in charge of human feeding stations of the wisdom of the same. Overall? The starlings are a fairly minor nuisance. I wouldn’t trade a single house wren for the lot of them. Nor would I want to see a single child go hungry, because someone might take advantage of the system…

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